Retired professional Jesus Manzano has been called as a witness for Alejandro Valverde’s hearing at the Court of Arbitration in Sport (CAS), which is scheduled to run from next Tuesday to Thursday.
The Spaniard, who was a teammate of Valverde on the Kelme Costa Blanca squad between 2002 to 2003, has spoken on several occasions of extensive doping practices within the team. He detailed these in a number of articles in the Spanish newspaper AS. Those revelations led to the questioning of former Kelme doctors Walter Virú and Eufemiano Fuentes, as well as Alfredo Córdova, who assisted the team during the 2003 Tour de France.
The subsequent investigation then led to the Spanish Civil Guard's Operación Puerto, which uncovered a doping network based around Fuentes’ clinic in Madrid. Valverde, Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich were amongst the professional riders to be implicated in the investigation.
Valverde, the winner of the 2009 Vuelta a España, has repeatedly denied involvement in banned practices, but faces two CAS hearings in the next two and half months.
The first is an appeal lodged by him against the Italian Olympic Committee’s (CONI) ruling in May of last year, which banned him from racing in Italy for two years. This stopped him from taking part in the 2009 Tour de France, which briefly passed through Italy.
CONI, the International Cycling Union (UCI) and World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) will all testify against Caisse d’Epargne rider Valverde next week. The outcome of this appeal will determine whether or not the Italian ban will stand.
A second hearing, with potentially greater implications for Valverde’s career, will take place from March 18-21. This was requested by the UCI and WADA, and is an appeal against the Spanish cycling federation’s decision not to discipline the rider. It could potentially result in a worldwide ban for Valverde.
Manzano was previously questioned by CONI about the Puerto affair. His participation in next week’s hearing will increase the pressure on his former-teammate. He has stated on several occasions that Valverde was involved, telling the German magazine Stern in 2007 that he "took the same stuff that they gave me."
Manzano also gave a specific example to the magazine. "I remember an evening after one of the Vuelta stages in 2002. Valverde came to dinner with a testosterone plaster on. After an hour he ripped it off, otherwise he would have tested positive."
Valverde has rejected Manzano’s claims.
According to AS, Valverde’s legal team have lodged a challenge to the Federal Court of Switzerland. They are seeking to have the Swiss judge Ulrich Haas removed from the panel of next week’s CAS hearing, “because he has a long and close relationship with WADA, who he has worked for several times, including the drafting of the World Anti-Doping Code.” Valverde’s lawyer has said that this could lead to another delay in the hearing.
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